500 Bucks: Selling a Horse without Documentation


On an amazingly warm Fall day, Bella in a sun halo pretending she is saintly
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An estate planning lawyer in my building stopped into my office yesterday evening and asked, "can someone legally sell a horse without a contract or papers? Because that's what my client just did today."

Because horses are for the most part considered property, you can legally sell a horse without written documentation.  However, if the horse is registered then the registration papers should be transferred. Furthermore, certain equine organizations like USEF require written documentation to transfer show points a horse has accrued and to transfer ownership of the horse under the horse's registration number.

The lawyer further said, "oh, the owner of the horse died and his kids don't know anything about horses so they sold it today for 500 bucks to some place where it will live with chickens and goats and such.  They said the horse isn't worth anything and it took them over an hour to get it into the trailer."

If the horse wasn't being knowingly sold for an illegal purpose (such as abusive uses), then selling that horse for "500 bucks" without papers is legal.  But not recommended.

What would you do if you find out the horse you sold is not being used for the intended purpose?  Like this case: the seller thought her horse was just going to a happy permanent home, unfortunately that oral understanding was breached, but without written documentation there is virtually no recourse. (Case sent to me by Stacey over at the Jumping Percheron).

Or what happens if someone is injured or killed on the horse and the injured person wants to sue the owner? You claim the horse had already been sold, but the buyers say that the sale was not yet complete.  This happened in a case with a green-broke horse named Mary Mae.  "The court held that the sale had occurred prior to the injury, despite the obligation to train, and despite the fact that the registration papers were not executed and transferred until a later date."
A common clause in a purchase and sale contract is a specification of when transfer of ownership, and who bears the risk of loss, occurs.

There are so many issues that can arise when a horse is sold without documentation that you owe it to yourself as a seller or buyer, and you owe it to the horse being sold, to memorialize the sale in writing, signed by the parties.  Even if the horse is only worth "500 bucks."